District News Roundup
Milwaukee has made significant progress in desegregating its schools, but black student achievement and race relations in the city appear to have declined, according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
"As measured by objective criteria such as achievement scores, numerical racial balance among students, and human relations, quality integrated education has not been reached in Milwaukee, and some would suggest it has regressed,'' a report prepared by the commission's Wisconsin Advisory Council concludes.
The report, released last month, cautions against drawing a causal relationship between desegregation and low achievement levels, however, and posits that black student achievement might have decreased further had desegregation programs not been in place.
Blaming much of the decline in student achievement on dwindling housing and economic opportunities, the report recommends that Milwaukee and its suburbs continue interdistrict and intradistrict school desegregation programs and address racial barriers related to housing and the job market.
A federal judge has reversed key aspects of his own earlier ruling and decided that students in a suburban Chicago school district may distribute a religious newspaper.
U.S. District Judge Paul Plunkett of Chicago ruled late last month that the Wauconda school district's policy of keeping religious newspapers off school grounds is unreasonable. Ruling in the same case one year ago, the judge upheld a policy that bans the distribution of material not published by a school organization.
The case began in 1990, when Megan Hedges, then a student at Wauconda Junior High School, sought to distribute copies of the conservative Christian newspaper Issues and Answers. School officials, citing a policy banning religious material, barred her from passing out the paper.
After Megan and her parents filed suit, school officials amended their policy to ban materials prepared by outsiders.
In a Sept. 30 opinion, Judge Plunkett said that, after reconsidering his earlier decision, he now finds that portions of the district's amended policy go too far in restricting students' rights. He said it is "unreasonable'' for schools to restrict materials to those developed by students.
The judge also invalidated a portion of the policy that requires students to distribute materials by sitting at a table in a school assembly room.
"We conclude that it is unreasonable, contrary to the school's educational mission, and downright arbitrary to prohibit students from distributing material that is prepared by others but that the distributor wishes to adopt as his or her own,'' the judge wrote.
In response to the Los Angeles riots, California's philanthropic community should support school-linked service programs and the expansion of a successful after-school enrichment program to enhance the lives of at-risk students, a committee of state legislators has recommended.
In its final report this month, the Assembly Special Committee on the Los Angeles Crisis said that its three months of study revealed the greatest concern of city residents following last spring's disturbances is the future of the city's children.
The special committee, which said it did not attempt to address comprehensive education reforms, concluded that "there is no greater urban problem than the troubled existence of so many inner-city youth.''
In addition to urging corporations and foundations to assist with funding, the committee encouraged Los Angeles County and the school districts within it to collaborate in developing school-linked service programs until funding for California's $20 million "Healthy Start'' program can be increased.
Philanthropic institutions should also help expand a four-year-old after-school enrichment program known as L.A.'s BEST, which offers supervised activities at 19 elementary schools in high-risk, inner-city neighborhoods, the report says.
A Kentucky circuit-court judge has ruled that local school boards have the power to accept or reject the annual improvement plans of school councils created by the state's 1990 reform law.
The decision comes in a lawsuit filed by the Boone County Education Association challenging a school board policy requiring each school council to submit its annual goals and improvement plan to the board for approval.
Some education organizations, including the Kentucky Education Association, called the ruling last month a setback to site-based decisionmaking and promised an appeal. Other officials countered, however, that the ruling is narrow and does not strip the school councils of any significant authority.
State law requires all schools to be governed by the six-person councils by 1996 and gives the panels control over staffing, instruction, discipline, and extracurricular activities.
Students were accompanied by police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs as they entered Detroit's new Malcolm X Academy late last month following the end of a lengthy districtwide teachers' strike.
However, the Afrocentric school opened in an unreceptive white neighborhood without incident, district officials said.
Residents of the predominantly white Warrendale area had objected to the placement of the mostly black, Afrocentric school in their neighborhood while local existing schools are overcrowded.
The controversy was marked by shouting matches at district meetings, protests by both black proponents and white foes of the school, and the painting of swastikas on the building.
Members of United Educators of San Francisco have ratified a three-year contract agreement that will give teachers a 2 percent pay increase this year, paid for by a local sales-tax increase that will end next June.
Because the tax is scheduled to end, the money will not be added permanently to the salary schedule. The contract does not include raises for the second and third years.
The union and the district reached the agreement on the contract with the assistance of a California foundation that assists districts in conducting nonadversarial bargaining.
The Philadelphia school district is considering modifications in its merit-promotion policy to further limit the number of times a student may be retained in grade.
The proposal would prevent students from being retained more than once between grades 1 and 8. It would also encourage elementary and middle schools to create ungraded cluster systems in which students would be promoted when they satisfy specific learning-outcome standards.
Currently, students may not be retained twice in the same grade, but may be held back in successive grades.
Under the proposal, students who do not meet the promotion standards a second time would be "assigned,'' rather than promoted, to the next grade and given intensive individual assistance and supervision.
In 1985, the district moved to end a longstanding policy of "social promotion'' by requiring students across the district to meet uniform standards to be promoted.
The board is expected to vote on the measure later this month.
Superintendent Donald W. Ingwerson of the Jefferson County, Ky., public schools announced last week that he will seek to renew his contract there instead of taking a job as an adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander on urban-education issues.
Mr. Ingwerson, who announced in August that he would not renew his contract in favor of taking the federal post, last week attributed his change of plans to "a constant stream of support from business, community, parents, and staff asking us to consider staying.''
Mr. Ingwerson said he and his wife, Lona, "love this community, and we feel our work here has only just begun.''
Last month, board members had speculated that Mr. Ingwerson might reconsider his decision to leave the district, which includes Louisville, where he has worked 11 years.
Mr. Ingwerson had insisted, however, that he was firm in his decision not to renew his contract after June 1993 and to take the federal job.
Mr. Ingwerson resigned his job, but said he would stay on until a successor could be found. He was working for the Education Department using vacation and sick leave.
Mr. Ingwerson said he plans to continue drafting an urban-education initiative for the department and will finish it by Nov. 15.